Žatec – the Hops Town
Žatec – the Hops Town is part of the Tentative list of Czechia in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.
Žatec was built in a region where hops was a typical crop. The historic town center has preserved buildings associated with the processing of hops. The Žatec brewery dates from the 18th century and is still functioning.
Map of Žatec – the Hops TownLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
There are these ideas of future WHS you have in your mind when you travel a bit. For instance, I would love a historic pub serial site in the UK and Ireland. Alas, I am only missing the proper locations to match to my idea. And obviously a say in the UK heritage committee and tentative list.
For Czechia, it always felt that a beer country, should have a beer related site. They like beer around here. My intuition would have pointed me towards Cesky Budejovice (Budweis) or Plzeň (Pilsen). Cesky Budejovice has a nice market square and is home to the original Budweiser brewery. Plzeň is where Pils was invented. But having been to Budweis, I didn't see it. The brewery is rather modern and I saw nothing to be nostalgic about. Not sure about Plzen, but I guess this falls in the same category... My hope was that the Czechs had scouted their land and found the perfect place for a beer WHS: Zatec? ... Unfortunately, no, they didn't.
Traveling between Karlsbad and Prague, I explored the town for a few hours. I can confirm the previous reviewers' comments that there is very little to see. There are some former breweries and store houses, but it doesn't amount to much and the state of preservation (see my picture) is rather poor. The hops museum allows you to explore one storehouse, nice but not stellar. The best part of my visit, the old town with a small hop garden, a new brewery and a synagogue, is no longer included which I found to be a pity. Recommended thing to do in town is to drink a local beer and then head off.
UPDATE: As pointed out by Matejicek, the bounderies were yet again revised. They seem to include old and new town. In addtion, hops fields were added. Probably, the most interesting component of the site.
One aside: Zatec is a site that I find a bit challenging on a historical note. Till 1945 and the Benes decrees Zatec was a majority German-speaking town called Saaz. The noble hops from Zatec is - to this day - called Saaz hops. Reading the Czech nomination you find zero reference to the expulsion of the German speaking population post WW2. It didn't happen in vacuum, I know, but it would have been worth a mention. The term that comes to mind is cultural appropriation, even if it's a term hard to associate with Germans after WW2.
Beer is produced since Ancient Egypt and the most popular alcoholic beverage to this day. But Zatec isn't it. Maybe, including the hops fields and turning this into a cultural landscape might help, but I have my doubts, starting with the question if there even is such a thing as a historic hops field. I also saw plenty of other fruits and vegetables grown on the fields around town. If this ever gets inscribed the final shape may change again, so I am not sure if I visited the right parts. I would counsel against making an effort to get here. Still, with the WHCs nowadays you never know what horse trading goes on. And following Matejicek's comment that the Czechs did as requested by ICOMOS it seems a probable inscription.
On a higher level, I think beer, unlike wine, faces the challenge of being an industrial product. A modern brewery is a beer plant operating with 21 century methods, while a vineyard may still look and operate the way it did 100 years ago. I am not sure what a beer WHS would actually look like and would be curious if someone has a great idea.
Zatec has a train station on the outskirts of town. I came by train from Karlsbad and walked to the city center (20min). It also has a bus terminal connecting you directly to Prague (just google it). While the bus only takes you to the outskirts of Prague, you can connect via Line B to Prague Old town quite easily.
To get to the hops fields seems a bit strenuous. Best option is probably to take a cab.
I gave the second chance to Žatec and the landscape of Saaz hops in July 2021. After deferral in 2018, the state party of Czechia submitted the new nomination file to be evaluated in 2022. The Žatec historical core with the Prague suburb was kept, but the cultural landscape with hops fields around villages Stekník and Trnovany has been added following the advice of ICOMOS. Though the new nomination is still problematic (bad shape of hops-related buildings, which lost their original function and their original owners have been repelled after WWII), it is better than the previous one, as its potential OUV might be expressed. Anyway, I expect inscription in 2022.
This time I omitted Žatec and went to the hops field component (now assigned as the component No.1), the focal point of which is Stekník hops village with small baroque chateau. The logistic is a bit complicated because of almost no public transport to Stekník. Thus, I decided to go by fast train from Praha to Most (every two hours, direction to Karlovy Vary and Cheb), then changed to local train from Most to Žatec (every one/two hours), getting off in the Dolejší Hůrky train stop. Then walking through the villages Hradiště, Stekník, Trnovany, Zálužice, Rybňany, and Tvršice (train stop for returning to Most and Prague). It was a good decision, because I could see everything important of this component, and all the above-mentioned villages are within the core or the buffer zone. On the other hand, the area is very non-touristy and this tour is not for everyone. It means jumping over puddles and mud, attacks of barking dogs (fortunately behind the fence), most of the hops-connected buildings not accessible and in desolated state, and NO pub with at least any beer.
Stekník village is located on a small hill surrounded by hop fields (PHOTO-top). There are some restoration works on the houses, but no building is accessible, there is no pub or restaurant, and the fleur of the place is damaged by paring cars. The most interesting farm belongs to the hops research institute, and it may be open for public time to time. Stekník is quite popular for local tourists because of the chateau. Even if I did a mistake and went for the guided tour to the interiors, it was still bearable as the castle is rather small and the tour quite short. However, it is enough to visit only the terrace garden with views to the hops field around (fee 50 CZK). Then I walked along the road through the hops fields to Trnovany village. Trnovany, though the core zone, is purely non-touristy, and there are two hops-drying kilns mentioned in the nomination. The four-chamber kiln (PHOTO-bottom left) looks quite interesting, but it is inaccessible. The second one, built in Neo-gothic style, which is praised in the nomination as the most beautiful hops kiln, is in desolated state, it is located close to the motorway estacade, surrounded by private properties, and almost inaccessible as well. Then I left the core zone and continued through the hops villages Zálužice, Rybňany and Tvršice (all within the buffer zone) to the train stop. I spotted several hops-related farms and kilns, which are quite easily to recognize. Most of them are sadly abandoned and in a bad shape. The most interesting is the round kiln in Rybňany (PHOTO-bottom right), which represents so-called English style of hops drying.
Hops fields are visually interesting as well as the hops-drying kilns. The problem is that once rich region is waiting for restoration and "new life" after expelling of German inhabitants after WWII. It is still not prepared for possible tourists. Nevertheless, it will be probably inscribed in 2022, because it was stated in the ICOMOS evaluation that the place has potential, and the state party followed all the requirements. I cannot imagine that ICOMOS will change mind and turn to the reject statement in 2022.
Even if the new nomination is better and more logical than the original one and I enjoyed my visit to the landscape of Saaz hops, I am still not sure about the OUV of the place. The point is if the OUV has the strict values 0 or 1, or if we can say that a site has the OUV only in part, let´s say in 20%. However, I am thinking that with the OUV it is like with a pregnancy... and it is not a good idea to inscribe new sites with the corrupted OUV but in line with rather formal requirements every year. Recently, Nan proposed an appealing idea for shrinking the list and removing the sites without pristine OUV.
September 2014 - I finished my studies and we bought an old VW Campervan to drive around Europe. So we switched to vanlife for few weeks.
Starting our journey, we headed south via Dresden to Czechia. Our first Twhs was Zatec. Since I am a brewing scientist, I was happy to see finally a beer spot on the list. I was quite disappointed, when Mechtild Rössler read out on the Whs meeting the deferal of the "town of hope". Obviously she did not even know what hops is and that it is a fundamental ingredient for beer.
Zatec is the home for Saazer Hops. Around the town are numerous hop fields and along the road to Prague you can spot here and there some wires and in september the are filled with winding hop plants. It is not only the destinct ingredient for czech pilsner but exported to the US for floral IPAs or to add bitterness to beers around the world. The town itself is related to hops only. We visited the hops Museum and took a creepy elevator ride on a hop tower showing a movie with a small hope cone flying above Zatec and singing "huii" and "ahoj". However, on top of the tower there was quite a nice view to the hop tens, where hops is being dried after harvest, you could see the brewery and all hop related buildings of Zatec.
With at least 10 grape sites, wine is overrepresented in the whs list. Beer and Spirits are important factors and part of human cultur. Therefore I want to see way more alcohol sites on that list. This is just the beginning and could become a serial nomination of hop growing areas, of breweries, maltsteries, Keg production etc. We bought a selection of beers and drove further to Pilsen. So a very hoppy first day of our roadtrip.
I visited this tentative WHS in Summer 2019 as a convenient stopover on my way to the newly inscribed Erzgebirge WHS.
Zatec has really made the most out of the regional and EU funds to exploit its main raw material for tourism. I'm glad I visited as I wouldn't have believed any information online that as much as seven fully-blown and rather large 'attractions' were linked to Zatec's hops, namely the Museum of Homolupolus, the Renaissance Malt-House Gallery, the Temple of Hops and Beer, the Peculiar Tramway Project, the Hops Astronomical Clock, the Hops Lighthouse and the Microbrewery U Orloje. Moreover, several house and building walls have been painted with hops motifs.
During my visit, I went up the modern looking Hops 'Lighthouse' (metal tower) to have a panoramic view of the whole hops town and fields and I checked out the microbrewery near the parking lot near a green area marked Zahrada. Even though I appreciate the noble attempt of attracting tourists in an otherwise ghost town of Czechia, I don't think that Zatec posseses any OUV even if it proudly claims to provide "the most important ingredient for the tastiest beers worldwide".
Historical core of Žatec belongs to one of the well-preserved medieval town structures with history over 1000 years. It was only partly modified in modern times. It does not disappoint but there are better examples in Czechia. The main reason why it is proposed as WHS is the long tradition of cultivation and processing of hops in Žatec municipality that sounds interesting and refreshing taking into account that Czechs are No.1 in consummation of beer in the world. Originally, hops was dried and further processed directly within the medieval walls as documented by shape of several roofs there. The mass production of hops led to design of new neighborhood - Prague Suburb in 19th, which preserved the shape of a standard town, but consisted mostly of buildings, factories, workshops and also quite a lot of chimneys, all related to hops drying and processing.
You can find two hops related permanent exhibitions in Prague Suburb. It is better to start with the official "museum of hops". Only "advantage" of the other one - "Temple of Hops and Beer" is that you can climb the modern hops tower with nice view (photo of the core zone of Prague Suburb). The tower was very criticized by ICOMOS in the first evaluation in 2018, so, maybe the tower will be pulled down?? I do not know... If you prefer beer drinking to museums, there is in fact only one good possibility - brewery&pub close to the museum of hops (beer is very good there!).
Besides the modern disrupting structures like the hops tower, desolate state of several building in the Suburb, the main problem of Žatec as hops town is that it is not easy to find and understand the OUV. The original historical district was also included to the original nomination in 2018, but there is almost no reason for that as its relation to hops is rather indirect. Prague Suburb is quite interesting and relatively compact structure of solid 19th century architecture, but it is not outstanding, and the chimney forest praised in the nomination text is not so spectacular and unique. It is also very problematic that the original hops-related function of the buildings is not preserved - the hops factories were moved to modern suburbs in 20th century. Another serious criticism of ICOMOS was that the fields for hops cultivations or other buildings such as farms or historical structures for hops drying in the countryside around Žatec were NOT included to the nomination. They are many hops field around Žatec, and they look very interesting.
We will see if the re-nomination in 2020 is more convincing than original one from 2018. My opinion is that Žatec is of national importance but without OUV, and should not be WHS.
Žatec – the Hops Town is up for inclusion in the World Heritage List in 2018. I’ve not been able to find any information online yet whether the ICOMOS advice has come out positive or negative. I put the Bohemian town on my itinerary of a long weekend trip to the German/Czech border region anyway. Žatec lies only about an hour’s drive away from Marienberg in the Ore Mountains, where I was staying.
I visited on a Saturday afternoon, and already on the way to it I was surprised that ‘everything’ was closed: shops had their doors firmly shut, and I was happy that I had filled up the tank of my car in Germany as even gas stations looked doubtful. Arriving at the central square of Žatec, it was easy to park there as no one was around as well! I had expected terraces full of beer drinking locals and tourists (the weather was very sunny and warm for late April), just as in most Czech towns that I had visited before. Only after some effort I found a pizzeria open for a late lunch.
Žatec advertises itself as ‘The Hops Town’, which isn’t the same as ‘The Beer Town’: the word “beer” does not even feature in the official T list description. What you will learn from a visit is how hops actually looks like (I had not seen it before) and what they do with it before it ends up in the beer. The industry of hop growing and processing in Žatec goes back to the Middle Ages.
The best place to learn more about the history is at the Hop Museum. This lies just around the corner from the quite tacky Hop and Beer Temple with its tower. The museum is located in a former hop storage and packing plant (a huge building). At the entrance I received a print-out of a few pages in English, explaining the objects shown across the 3 floors. Most spectacular I found the exhibition about hop-growing on poles – hop plants actually look a bit like vines, but taller. Until 1957, it was common to grow them attached to constructions with meters high wooden poles in ‘hop pole gardens’.
The wealth that came with the blossoming hops industry also led to rich residential and communal buildings. A nice row of those at the elongated main square looks recently revamped or repainted.
Although there is some signposting, I found it difficult to find out which places can be visited. They are scattered around town among lots of not so interesting places. Roaming around the empty streets I stumbled upon the old synagogue – while peeking in, it looked in such bad repair that it might be a hazard to enter. But there is actually an exhibition inside about the Jewish history of Žatec. The synagogue itself was badly damaged already during the Kristallnacht (1938) and never used again. I was unexpectedly quite moved by the visit, as the state of the building makes it seem that it all happened yesterday.
After so many WHS associated with grapevine growing, it would be a welcome change to have one about hops too. I find it a pity actually that Žatec has not gone for a cultural landscape approach, as hops growing is still practiced around town as well as the rest of the production process. The current proposal possibly focuses too much on the historic buildings, which may come across as yet another Central European town center with a row of colourful houses.
Žatec is where a lot of beer comes from! I mean, the hops for the beer. They export it to like China, Ireland (Guinness apparently), all over the world. If you drive around the area you will see massive fields of hops but what is special about the town itself? Actually very little. It is a quiet town. Coming here to explore beer culture is not the right spot. There is a big museum and a hop tower. The tower is just to see the town from above and I don't really recommend wasting your money on it. The hop temple is actually sort of like a children attraction with a scary ride attraction but they do teach you about Žatec's hop-growing and hop-processing a little, with the building it was the former hop storage. When asked about breweries they give you some restaurants outside of town, heading almost back to Marienbad even, where they have good food and you get the local beer. Unfortunately this was going the wrong way for the trip and it was not drinking time. Of course you can pick up the Žatec beer anywhere but the shops here have a good selection too.
2007 Added to Tentative List
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